Among those who took a keen interest in Alex Bright’s budding career was his maternal grandfather Joe Hemler. As a young man, Hemler hung around with famed Keystone racer Johnny Mackison Sr.
“We ran around a lot before he took off for the war and then when he came back,” said Hemler, who is 81. “I was more of a friend than anything, but I also helped with the car.”
These were heady days. Mackison was competing against the likes of associates Neil Haight, Bobby Hersh and Bobby Able. In the early 1960s, Mackison was racking up wins by the dozens and track championships came in bunches.
Hemler witnessed it all.
“The main man was Davey Brown,” Hemler recalled. “He was the hot boy. He was one hell of a mechanic and always on top of it. It is hard to explain, but a motor was like his heart. It is just the way it was. He was more than amazing.”
From the moment his grandsons took their first laps Hemler had the itch to get involved and by the time Alex was about to graduate from micros, Hemler was overseeing his racing program.
Now it was decision time. Did it make sense to continue along this path and see where it could take them? Ted Bright knew it was impossible to assess the ability of his children objectively.
“I knew back in the quarter midget days that Alex was a special talent,” he said. “But all fathers think that, and I am no exception. He did have a little something different in quickness and reflexes and that was the clue to me that there was something different here.”
Joe Hemler was even more certain that Alex Bright had the potential to keep climbing the ladder and to make that happen he took a radical step.
“I sold my boat,” he said with a laugh, “I had a 34-foot sport fisherman that I used in the ocean, but I thought this boy has it. I sold the boat to go racing. He was in the micros, but if you want to move forward, you have to go for it. I had to push and I will never be sorry for what I did, what I spent and how it all went.”
Alex Bright had just graduated from Methacton High School and realized he was at a crossroads.
“I was going to be going to college,” he said. “So I was either going to move up in racing or just go to college and be done with it. Then my grandfather bought a midget for $14,000. It was not the best piece, but we fixed her up and went racing with it.”
Alex Bright made his first laps in the midget at Pennsylvania’s Big Diamond Speedway. Over time, he found racing with ARDC, provided a stiff challenge.
“I thought it was great,” Alex Bright said. “It was new to me and I wanted to run non-wing. I liked going to different tracks.”
As he found his way to the front, he soon dealt with a unique handicap system ARDC used to line up features. “I hated it when I was doing it,” he said. “But it made you a better racer. From about my third year on me, Steve and Timmy Buckwalter, and (Steven) Drevicki were always starting 11th through 15th, and we had to race our way to the front, which made it fun.”
Alex Bright won his first ARDC feature in 2011 and his brother was named rookie of the year in the series. Alex Bright became a consistent winner in ARDC competition and claimed the series title in 2016.
“We could have won ARDC championships three or four years in a row. Easy,” said Hemler. “But we didn’t go to every race.”
Bright led the ARDC in victories on more than one occasion, but trips to the west to compete in events such as Indiana Midget Week hurt his title chances. In many ways eastern midget racing was in a bit of a crisis. The ARDC as it was known had disbanded and USAC came in as the sanctioning body. In 2017, Bright paced the series in wins but missed two races. One year later he was the champion, winning half of the scheduled events.
But while he depended on his grandfather for support, he was now largely in charge of his racing program. At first, he committed much of his life and time to the sport while also attending the University of Akron with the intention of earning a degree in engineering. Then at the winter break in his second year, he seized on an opportunity to race in Australia. He would score a win for owner Jack Berry at Toowoomba Speedway and raced for Danny Lendich as a teammate to Jerry Coons Jr. As a result, college went on the back burner.
During his winter trips Down Under he picked up a valuable supporter, albeit in unusual circumstances.